Status of observer at Eurasian Union and impact on Moldova’s European agenda, OP-ED

 

 

The status of observer at the EEU encourages the radicalization of debates around the future foreign policy course of Moldova...


 

Dionis Cenuşa
 

Moldova took one more step towards the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), but without obtaining something concrete yet. On May 14, 2018, the Presidents of the five member states of the Union, who met in Sochi for the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, decided by consensus to offer Moldova the status of observer (Eurasian Commission, May 14, 2018). The request to offer the status was made by President Igor Dodon, who also made similar approaches in the case of the memorandum of cooperation that was signed with the same organization in April 2017 (IPN, April 10, 2017). This status offers nothing palpable and clear, but manages to fuel the internal geopolitical contradictions and to stimulate the uncertainty about Moldova’s external orientation after the legislative elections of 2018.  

Status of observer between real provisions and electoral promises

Even if it has an exclusive geopolitical significance for Russia and the pro-Russian forces in Moldova and ensures a particular media impact, the status of observer country has no economic substance. The only benefits indicated in the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (Art. 109) include the participation in institutional meetings of the organization and access to non-confidential documents that are anyway published on the EEU’s official website.

President Dodon ignores the exact provisions of the status of observer (Art. 109, EEU Treaty) and promises that Moldova will get a series of commercial and socioeconomic advantages.

To begin with, he promises that the Moldovan exporters will have “additional opportunities” to sell goods on the common EEU market, without specifying them yet. In reality, the Moldovan products already benefit from access to the markets of the countries that form part of the EEU, based on the CIS Free Trade Agreement of 2012. Russia is the only country to which Moldova cannot export according to the liberalized commercial regime of the CIS. Since 2013, this country has regularly imposed commercial restrictions. In 2014 it restored the customs duties for about 20 categories of Moldovan products. For these reasons, the status of observer cannot create additional advantageous conditions and solve the problem of Russian bans that President Dodon is trying to annul, but within a direct dialogue with Vladimir Putin and based on concessions that are for now unknown.

The second “benefit” specified by the Moldovan President is the negotiation of privileged conditions for the Moldovan workers who are in the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union. As in the case of exports, Igor Dodon erroneously interprets the provisions of the status of observer and incorrectly attributes the benefits typical only for the member states. Not even Russia would agree to simplify the access to the labor market for the non- EEU members, such as Moldova. Such benefits risk discouraging the extension of the Eurasian integration between the current five members and devaluing the “attraction factors”, such as the elimination of barriers to the employment in Russia. It is yet possible for President Dodon to obtain temporary concessions, by the model of the extension of the period of legalizing Moldovan workers that was agreed with Russia in 2017. These types of concessions do not yet derive from the status of observer, but from individual political negotiations (Dodon-Putin) or intergovernmental negotiations (Moldova-Russia).

The third advantage that the Head of State connects to the status is the possibility of negotiating lower prices for the Russian natural gas. The integration into the energy sector is very weak inside the  EEU, mainly owing to the state monopolies that distort the market and allow for the massive interference of political factors. That’s why the cheapening of hydrocarbons takes place based on complex political negotiations that imply concessions on the part of the countries that are energy dependent and on the geopolitical calculations of Russia. The status of observer does not envision the facilitation of negotiations with Gazprom, which should be held by the country’s government and the operator Moldovagaz in conditions of maximum transparency. These cannot be substituted by obscure discussions held by the President, who could accommodate the monopolist interests of Gazprom in Moldova.

The advantages uttered  by the President show that these cannot result from a vague and limited status of observe. These advantages are supported by weak argumentation that does not reflect the provisions of the EEU Treaty. Also, the used argumentation is practically identical with the electoral promises made by Igor Dodon during the campaign prior to the presidential elections of 2016. 

Status of observer for Moldova or for office of President Dodon?

In accordance with Article 109 of the EEU Treaty, any country can ask for and get the status of observer at this organization. There are imposed no political or geographical criteria and the decision should be adopted unanimously by the member states. Namely based on this article, Moldova received the status of observer on May 14 this year.

The implementation of this status is yet uncertain as it is supported only by the President’s office  and is rejected by the other state powers. In this connection, the Speaker of Parliament and the representative of the Democratic Party Andrian Candu described the effects of this status on Moldova as null and void given that this wasn’t initiated and validated by the legislature. At the same time, the Speaker said that only Igor Dodon and the Party of Socialists have the status of observer at the EEU (Parlament.md,  May 15, 2018) and insisted on the importance of “constitutionalizing” the European course (IPN, December 18, 2017).

The procedures for obtaining the status of observer described in the EEU Treaty (Art. 109) clearly stipulate that the request should be made by the state, not by a branch of the power in that state. The decision adopted by the Presidents of the EEU states (Decision No. 9, May 14, 2018) provides that the approach was made by President Dodon in the name of Moldova.

The national legislation has some ambiguous  provisions about the foreign policy duties of the President and this is thus exposed to the risk of political manipulation. Thus, Art. 86 of the country’s Constitution says the President can sign international treaties in the name of the state. The same article say the signed international agreements should be presented to Parliament. Also, the Law on international treaties clearly provides (Art. 10, 11) that any international agreement signed in the name of Moldova should go through the filter of the legislative power. To defend the status of observer of Moldova at the EEU, President Dodon uses imprecisely and in a truncated form both the text of the Constitution and the primary legislation. (See Table below)

 

Table. Provisions of national legislation concerning President’s foreign policy powers

 

Legal provisions

Arguments used by President Dodon

Legal provisions omitted by President Dodon

Constitution of the Republic of  Moldova

Art. 86 (1) The President of the Republic of Moldova holds talks and takes part in negotiations, signs international treaties in the name of the Republic of Moldova and presents them to Parliament for ratification in the way and period specified by the law.

Art. 86 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova empowers the President to hold talks and to sign international treaties in the name of the Republic of Moldova.

Art. 86 (1): “and presents them to Parliament for ratification in the way and period specified by the law.”

Law No. 595 of 24.09.1999 concerning the international treaties of the Republic of  Moldova

Art. 10. (1) In accordance with the international law and the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, the President of the Republic of Moldova, as the Head of State, represents the Republic of Moldova in the international relations, holds talks and takes part in negotiations, signs international treaties in the name of the Republic of Moldova, without presenting the full powers.

 

Art. 11 (1) The Parliament of the Republic of Moldova takes decisions concerning the ratification, acceptance, approval or joining by the Republic of Moldova of:

a) international treaties signed in the name of the Republic of Moldova;

Art. 10 (1) of the Law on international treaties of the Republic of  Moldova stipulates that the President of the Republic of Moldova, as the Head of State, represents the country in the international relations, holds talks and takes part in negotiations, signs international treaties in the name of the Republic of Moldova, without presenting the full powers.

 

Art. 11 (1) The Parliament of the Republic of Moldova takes decisions concerning the ratification, acceptance, approval or joining by the Republic of Moldova of:
a) international treaties signed in the name of the Republic of Moldova;

 

 

This episode is unpleasant for the President whose approach in favor of the status of observer at the EEU runs counter to the national legislation. The same thing is disqualifying for the EEU, which overlooked the legality of Igor Dodon‘s request, undermining this way the importance of the status of observer.

Connotations and geopolitical implications of status of observer

The Eurasian Union’s inability to physically enlarge itself makes this resort to artificial solutions for magnetizing the states from its proximity and, eventually from more distant regions. The offering of the status of observer is one of these solutions that is tested for the first time on Moldova, following the evident abuse of power by President Dodon.

In practical terms, the status offers nothing else but access to the offices of the Presidents of the EEU member states and the possibility of obscurely negotiating concessions in exchange for temporary benefits. More serious is yet the fact that the countries with such a status pledge to “refrain from any action that can affect the interests of the Union and its member states, the goal and objectives of the EEU Treaty” (Art. 109, p. 5, EEU Treaty). This aspect reveals the intrusive character of this status that can affect even the implementation of particular aspects of the Association Agreement with the EU.

The obtaining of this status leads to the appearance of a unique situation with multiple geopolitical connotations for Moldova and not only.

Firstly, this is comparable to an act of geopolitical publicity that does not imply political or economic costs for either of the sides – the office of the President in Moldova and the EEU member states. The status of observer was offered for the first time in three years of its foundation in 2015. Thus, the Eurasian Union is trying to consolidate the perception that this is an interesting regional project even for the countries that extend their relations with the EU.

Secondly, the move is addressed to the EU, which shows reticence to the Eurasian Union and its proposal to set up a cooperation platform based on principles of equality. By the status given to Moldova, it could be tested the compatibility between two distinct geopolitical regimes. In other words, Moldova, which already implements the Association Agreement with the EU, can in parallel familiarize itself with the functioning format of the EEU. This intention was confirmed by President Dodon (Privesc.eu, May 16, 2018), who suggested that this way “Moldova becomes a mutually advantageous bridge for the EU and EEU” (Presedinte.md, May 16, 2018). Thus, the Moldovan leader repeatedly showed his inclination to a multi-vector foreign policy (IPN, April 23, 2018) and also that he could renounce his previous promises concerning the scraping of the Agreement with the EU.

Thirdly and lastly, the status of observer helps Igor Dodon and the Party of Socialists to persuade the national public that the Eurasian integration is not something negative for Moldovans’ interests and, at least temporarily, for the European agenda. For this yet, the pro-Russian forces in Moldova will need concrete benefits delivered as soon as possible, which would justify the utility of the rapprochement with the EEU. Moreover, the status of observer paves the way for an eventual Armenian scenario in Moldova. Under this, the country joins the EEU and thinks up a new agreement with the EU, which would be less ambitious than the Association Agreement (SIC.md, December 9, 2017).   

Instead of conclusion…

The subject of the status of observer at the EEU will be present on the agenda of the debates for the parliamentary elections of 2018. From legal viewpoint, Moldova didn’t become a party to the EEU Treaty, but only obtained the status of observer. Or the involvement of Parliament would have been needed to ensure full legality.

Even if the legal effects of the status are null for the country, this can have positive effects for the geopolitical narrative of Russia and the pro-Russian forces in Moldova. Also, this status is used by the Democratic Party to explain the necessity of saving the country’s European orientation by enshrining it in the Constitution.

Indirectly, the status of observer at the EEU encourages the radicalization of debates around the future foreign policy course of Moldova. Consequently, the Democrats can shape a more pronounced pro-European profile compared with the other parties associated with the EU, while the Socialists continue to absorb voters from the pro-Russian segments of society and try to conquer voters with multi-vector and utilitarian foreign policy preferences.

 
Dionis Cenuşa

 


IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.